THREE FARMS: Making Milk, Meat and Money from the American Soil by Mark Kramer

THREE FARMS: Making Milk, Meat and Money from the American Soil

Email this review


Profiles of three farms in the John McPhee manner, but with a cumulative, what-is-American-agriculture-coming-to effect. The one you'll remember longest is the one that, paradoxically, almost shouldn't be: the Totman dairy farm in northwestern Massachusetts, where Lee Totman is if anything even a better farmer than his father Ray and the very inventions that drove other New England dairymen out of business have been turned to advantage. Here, because Kramer is topnotch on the ""private events of dairying,"" you'll understand why Ray Totman, like his forebears, spends about two hours in the milking parlor--milking, however, many more cows. (But should it be possible to speed up the process even marginally, economics would mandate a further increase in herd size--and New England's land-poor dairy farmers would lose out to Wisconsin's.) With similar particularity, Kramer takes up ""free-stall housing"" (by which the cows keep their own quarters clean), mastitis (inescapable, given the striving for high production), soil fertilization (Squanto, you may be surprised to hear, learned about fish from Europeans), and cow-breeding; but he's equally attentive to the human trauma of succession from Father to Son. Joe Weisshaar's spread, in Creston, Iowa, is only partially his; and his imperative isn't maximizing production, it's meeting the payments on his land, his supplies, his array of equipment. ""Capitalist efficiency,"" Kramer calls it; and he injects a laconic exchange between Joe Weisshaar and his banker that speaks volumes. But in the Midwest, it's expand or perish--and, in the process, the pig may go the way of the chicken, into factory production. Out in the San Joaquin Valley, Kramer does indeed find the ""farmerless farm,"" home also of the tasteless tomato; and here he probes the problem of optimum size . . . which is not, emphatically, the biggest. A richly various, subtly shaded application of specialized findings to individual situations, and vice versa.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1980
Publisher: Atlantic/Little, Brown